Sunday, March 19, 2017

Document "Mapping" in the SS Croom

A few days ago I posted a picture of some of my US History students at work, under the label of "document mapping".  I was asked the same question by several colleagues- "What is document mapping?"  At the time, it honestly prompted me to ask myself the same question, along with "Why did you choose that label for this activity?"  Truly I took the picture and posted it, typing in that label almost as an afterthought, an instinct.  It just felt right.  But as I've thought about primary document use in our croom I can see that "mapping" is exactly what we do...but perhaps not in the traditional way to which social studies teachers might be accustomed.

Since this post is likely going to focus a bit on semantics, a few reminders-

  • A primary document is any kind of source that was produced at the time of the event it describes.  These sources could be text (like a diary entry), visual (like a battle map or a photograph), something to be heard (like a song or a speech), etc.
  • As a social studies teacher I am an ardent proponent of using these sources in the croom.  I truly believe they are the lifeblood of what we teach, and often the most interesting lesson plan supplement we could use (I mean, who wants to "talk" about the 60's when we could listen to some Bob Dylan?)  For some of my favorite places to access great primary documents, check out this past blog entry.
In the traditional social studies croom, mapping is exactly that- working with maps.  And in that sense it is absolutely crucial.  The "where" is often as important as the "what" when studying history.  There is a great deal that can be learned by analyzing events in a geographic sense.  But does "mapping" always have to refer to geography?

Mapping is about relationship.  It is about comparing one thing to another.  It is about examining the process of something.  Key word- process.  Process- welcome to social studies 101.  As it turns out, I chose the right word after all. 

The lesson I posted was a lesson in which students in US History were focused on why exactly the United States had entered World War II.  We had spent the past several weeks looking at the US in World War I, and as usual we focused more on the "why" and the consequences more than we focused on the fighting itself.  A US History teacher cannot talk about the why of either war without talking about the intense attitude of isolationism seen in the country before both wars.  Americans were simply not sold on entering this war, and in both cases would have to be shown, in very tragic terms, why the United States could not stay out.  As we began the discussion of World War II, it was important that students dig in to understand this attitude, and how it changed, along with circumstances and realities around the world, leading up to American entry after Pearl Harbor.  We began this discussion with me asking students to explain why the US entered World War II, to which I had several students shout out "Pearl Harbor".  My next question to the students- "Would the United States have entered World War II if Pearl Harbor had never happened?"  Pearl Harbor was a direct attack, a clear reason for the US to exit its attitude of isolationism and get involved.  But were we headed there already?

        US History students discussing their documents

Process.  The word is at the center of what these students were examining.  How did we get from here to there?  To both challenge them and get them talking, students were each given a document that pertained directly to the process, ranging from the Kellogg-Briand Pact to a recording of a fireside chat on September 11, 1941, during which FDR discussed the sinking of an American ship at the hands of the Germans.  Students were given a few short analysis questions to focus their thinking, and then given a few minutes to compare their answers with other students who had the same document.  This also allowed me to quickly move through the groups to answer questions that might exist on the document.  Next the students were separated into slightly larger groups, each group featuring at least one student from each document.  Students were then challenged to place the documents in chronological order and then discuss their document with the rest of the group. Throughout this process the overarching question was kept on the board as a reminder- "Would the United States have entered World War II if Pearl Harbor had never happened?"  Students were asked, at the end, to answer this question in their journals, leaning heavily on the discussion from the day's lesson.

Process.  I keep coming back to that word because so much of what we do in social studies classrooms is about examining process.  How did this happen, how did a people go from here to there, why- these are questions which guide learning in our crooms, and if we can encourage students to find these answers in the actual voices of the past, their understanding of history is all that much more deep and meaningful.  Social studies teachers are in the midst of a revolution in teaching methods, ditching the textbooks and taking the learning to the source, giving students an opportunity to experience history on their own.  It's not as easy as the textbook, but it is most certainly better. Step up!


  1. Kevin: I love this activity! I've done activities like this in the past, and it is certainly more difficult than using the textbook... but it is so much more meaningful and effective :) Keep fighting the good fight!

  2. Kevin! I am all about pedagogical relationships--epistemological ones are at the focus on your mapping activity here. I have no doubt this totally engaged students. Research shows that tying students emotions into learning as teens (and, thus, imagination) involves connecting to big ideas, theories, anomalies--as much as making ideas vivid through imagery, visual manipulation etc. (See Tips For Imaginative Educators Tools of Imagination Series on my blog) lots of these are at play in your unit here. You should take one of your examples and share with our readers on #imaginED. :)
    An aside--I recently asked people their position on the cursive or no cursive teaching question. Can you imagine if students lost the ability to read those primary documents? So many in cursive! #sunchatbloggers